The Water Cube with the Bird’s Nest in the background

Ice Cube for the 2022 Winter Games

Beijing’s National Aquatics Center, popularly known as the water cube, was transformed as an Ice Cube for the 2022 Winter Games.  This iconic structure was built using ETFE membrane as the building’s skin.  Such skin can breathe and accommodate changes in user requirements with ease.

2008 Beijing Summer Olympics

Beijing has become a destination for world class architecture with ambitious and trend setting buildings such as the Water Cube and recently completed Starfish international airport. The water cube was one of two structures at the 2008 Summer Olympics that captivated people’s imagination.  The other structure was the Beijing National Stadium, popularly known as the Bird’s nest.  Both structures relied heavily on digital technologies for design and fabrication. Such technologies facilitated design and construction of complex curves and geometries.

Breathable skin with ETFE membrane

New materials such as the ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) membrane can allow light, heat, touch, and mechanical stress much like the human skin. In addition, they can remain translucent and mutable.  At the Ice Cube, the ETFE membrane is actually made up of large pressurized cushions which act as inflated cavity walls. 

Construction field mockup showing the exterior envelope
Construction field mockup showing the exterior envelope 1

The skin patterns

Construction field mockup of exterior wall shows a double layer envelope with 3D Vierendeel space frame in between.  The skin pattern mimics the pattern of soap bubbles which tend to follow multisided polyhedral geometry.  The gap between the outer and inner layers of the wall system is approximately 12 feet, while the gap in the roof system is approximately 24 feet.  The interior space between the ETFE envelopes permits movement of conditioned air as well as lighting and other environmental controls. 

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Earthquake resistant structure

The 3D Vierendeel space frame consists of 22,000 tubular steel members and 22,000 nodes.  It is made up of repetitive geometric polyhedrons.  The space frame is designed to allow minor movement during an earthquake to prevent structural failure. 

Interior view of the Water Cube
Interior view of the Water Cube 2

Dramatic transformation

The Water Cube underwent dramatic transformation to become an Ice Cube for curling events at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.  It featured a transferable rink with new ice-making system, and a state-of-the-art environmental monitoring system to monitor interior temperature, humidity and lighting.  The Ice Cube demonstrated how buildings can transform themselves to accommodate new needs without undergoing major structural upgrades. 

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